Better late than never, so they say. Following an emphatic 3-0 trouncing of crosstown rivals Inter in last weekend's Derby Della Madonnina, Milan defeated Palermo 2-0 on Wednesday in a professional, if not spectacular, manner. After a long season full of false dawns and lingering disappointment, it seems that Milan may have finally gotten their act together at long last. The defensive discipline that Milanisti had expected Sinisa Mihajlovic to instill immediately upon his arrival seems to finally be sinking in, as well as the ability to see out matches from a winning position. The profligacy that blighted many of Milan's performances earlier in the season seems to be fading as well, with both Carlos Bacca and M'Baye Niang enjoying an excellent run of form leading the line.
Milan have consolidated their place in the top six over the past few weeks, having built up a six-point gap between themselves and 7th-placed Sassuolo. In the short term, Milan's goal in the short term must simply be to keep pace with the likes of Roma and Inter, before a push for 3rd place can really be taken into consideration. A win against Udinese would put Milan another step closer to achieving that goal, especially if Roma and Inter drop points in their own matches.
In stark contrast to Milan's good form going into this fixture, Udinese are falling further and further in the standings. Whilst the Bianconeri are still several points above the relegation zone, they've earned just two points from their last five matches and have failed to register a win this side of the winter break. This fixture has come at a good time for Milan and a third consecutive win here will boost confidence even further still. When Milan last faced Udinese at the Stadio Friuli in September, the match finished 3-2 with Milan almost throwing away what should have been a comfortable win. A good performance here could set the tone for the rest of the season, and this match shouldn't be taken lightly. There'll be no excuse for a loss in focus this time around.
Milan will likely stick with a 4-4-2 formation, spearheaded by the attacking duo of Carlos Bacca and M'Baye Niang (the latter quickly becoming a protagonist for Milan) and a pairing Alex and Alessio Romagnoli at the back. If there is a concern for Milan, it's that Giacomo Bonaventura will likely miss the match through injury. The influential winger has succumbed to a hip problem that, whilst minor, will keep him out of this particular fixture. How Milan will come without the team's main creative outlet is a big worry and few would argue that, bar possibly Carlos Bacca, Bonaventura has been the Rossoneri's best player so far this season. Kevin-Prince Boateng is the man most likely to replace him, though it remains a possibility that Jeremy Menez will return to the lineup for this match as well.
Udinese will stick with their usual 3-5-2 headed up by the strike partnership of Cyril Thereau and Duvan Zapata. The Zebrette have struggled for goals as of late, but those two can cause problems for any team on their day, as Milan found out last time. There are no easy matches and Udinese will ensure this is no different, but if Milan are for real, then this is a match they must win.
Milan: 4-4-2 - Gianluigi Donarumma; Ignazio Abate, Alex, Alessio Romagnoli, Luca Antonelli; Keisuke Honda, Juraj Kucka, Riccardo Montolivo, Kevin-Prince Boateng; Carlos Bacca, M'Baye Niang.
Udinese: 3-5-2 - Orestis Karnezis; Molla Wague, Danilo, Felipe; Silvan Widmer, Emanuel Agyemang-Badu, Guilherme, Emil Halfredsson, Edenilson; Duvan Zapata, Cyril Thereau.
Kevin-Prince Boateng should make the most of his opportunity to start here, scoring one and providing one for Carlos Bacca.
Milan 2-0 Udinese